It’s been 10 months since Red Deer Rebels goaltender Chase Coward appeared in net for central Alberta’s team.
It was in the 2022 WHL Playoffs and the Rebels were facing elimination from the eventual WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
But after he was recently cleared by doctors to play again after a diagnosis last summer for a congenital defect to his lower body, Coward was called up by the Rebels.
On Wednesday Coward was solid between the pipes posting a nearly 20-save shutout in a 2-1 win against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The 20-year-old had the shutout within his grasp but a late Hurricanes tally with 17 seconds left spoiled it.
“I felt really good,” Coward said postgame. “It was my first game in about 10 months and getting thrown back in there was pretty good. I’ve been here for a while honing my craft in practice looking for an opportunity to come out and play.”
Despite getting surgery on both hips Coward was solid albeit with a few nerves at the start of the game.
“The boys really helped me calm down. I had a lot of outside shots to start off and then by the third I was settled in ready to make those big saves if I needed to,” Coward added.
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said Coward was solid, confident, and under control.
“I thought the team played really well in front of him the first two periods but you know you’re going to have a few big saves,” he said. “He stopped what he had to… Great for him it’s been a long time for him to get into game action.”
With the victory, the Rebels clinched the Central Division for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
“There’s good hockey teams in this league and in our division. To start any season that’s really your first goal to win the division. It’s fun to be able to win it against a team that’s chasing you and I thought our guys had that mindset,” Konowalchuk said.
With just under seven minutes left in the opening period, the Rebels leading goal scorer Kai Uchacz did what he does best. Off the pass from Ben King, Uchacz fired in his 47th of the year which is second-best in the Western Hockey League.
That would be the only goal until Rebels forward Jhett Larson buried a shorthanded goal on a breakaway opportunity off the feed from captain Jayden Grubbe in the second period.
Lethbridge added a goal in the third period but it wasn’t enough to pull off a comeback.
“Very solid effort from all of our guys,” Konowalchuk added.
“Our top guys played really hard and they led the way. Everybody contributed there were no passengers. We were able to play everybody. Obviously, there were some big plays out there but there were also some little plays.
“Larson was on every puck. Armstrong, his speed to chase down icing and to get on the defence… All those things just continue to build momentum throughout the game. It was a good team effort.”